United Airlines Incident all over the Social Media space

Posted on July 10, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Being instantly responsive is once again in the news, as we watch a situation involving a passenger on United Airlines unfold.  The punch line is the story of an individual doing something about his awful experience. He didn’t just taking “no” for an answer, he used this medium to get the story out.  As of the writing of this blog, there has been no answer by United.

Here’s a basic recap of what happened.  A musician, David Carroll, takes a trip from Halifax to Omaha with his band.  They check their guitars in as baggage.  As they are preparing to take off from his connection at O’hare, David (and some other passengers) notice that the baggage handlers are throwing the guitars around, and this concerns David.  His guitar is expensive and delicate.

He tries to get the airline personnel to do something in the moment, but they are too busy with preparations to help him.  He gets to his destination, only to notice that there has been damage.  He then begins a long, unsatisfying customer service process, ending with a representative of United telling him they would not do anything for him.

He decides to write 3 songs about his experience, post them on YouTube, and let people see/hear them for free.  As of today, he’s posted his first song.  Of course, it’s gone viral, and over 1.3 million people have viewed his video.  Curve productions, a company in Halifax, has teamed up with David to get the word out.

Others have gotten involved in writing and promoting this cause.  Shel Israel wrote about how companies like United need to realize the power of social media.  He says,

Suddenly companies that do not apologize for poor customer treatment and play odds that most customers have neither the wherewithal nor the patience to litigate will just fade away.

They’re wrong of course. Companies that do not understand that individuals can use social media to raise concern, ire and awareness. Companies that continue to ignore this, I predict, are the ones that will fade away and sooner than they may think.

He’s right.  Companies need to understand this new world, and we have example after example of times when they miss the mark.  They eventually have to apologize. Sometimes they even use these very same tools to instantly get their apology out.

My husband summed the United situation up nicely.  He said,

The Internet and social networking has changed complaining. When something like this goes viral, it is really bad for the company even if it is not factual. The urban legend can go wild in minutes not years.

I’m interested in what United decides to do. My bet: nothing until the pressure is just too much to handle. Are they even monitoring what is going on? Certainly that must be the next step for any company trying to build a strategy for managing their brand and their reputation.

Here’s a few basic steps for United executives:

1.  Awareness: Learn about social media today.  Take a course.  Bring in a consultant to teach you and your team about this space (I’m available).

2.  Monitoring: Learn how to properly monitor these channels so you know what is being said about your brand and your enterprise.  Build a team of people who watch this space and can instantly alert executives to any activity they see.

3.  Strategize: Build a social media strategy so you can take well-thought-out steps to managing the opportunities and the potential disasters that happen in this space.

This sounds simple, but as we see, it’s anything but simple.  Especially when it’s your company who is the next case study in “examples of bad customer experiences”.

August, 2009 update:  To be expected, there is a lot of buzz around this incident.  A good analysis of United’s response can be found at Dan Greenfield.  Some interesting suggestions for United were penned by Angela Connor.  What about Song #2? here’s the latest from John Dodge at Smart Planet.

August 27, 2009 update:  The conversation continues around this musician’s response to poor customer service.  His second music video is out on YouTube…and it’s wonderfully playful.  The song croons, “What did you mean when you said you were sorry?  I’m a bit confused…”  But the real story is about how United is (or is not) handling this.  Where are they in this conversation?  Are they trying to handle this quietly on the side with emails to Mr. Carroll?  They need to understand that this is the wrong tactic.  Maybe they should team up with David Carroll to create the 3rd song he promises?  create their own video?  Laughing at themselves, publicly joining the conversation, is really the only option to get past this.  It’s out there.  ignoring it won’t make it go away this time.

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3 Responses to “United Airlines Incident all over the Social Media space”

RSS Feed for Designing and Leading Instantly Responsive Organizations Comments RSS Feed

[…] looked at the risks associated with not being aware and not having a plan.  United Hates Guitars provided a great case for discussion.  We then turned the spotlight on their organization.  We […]

[…] structure to create content that directly and significantly affects the company.  Witness how one individual created a storm for United Airlines, or where a group of individuals convinced Facebook to reverse a business […]

[…] structure to create content that directly and significantly affects the company.  Witness how one individual created a storm for United Airlines, or where a group of individuals convinced Facebook to reverse a business […]


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